Interactive Adventures: Leaders in the Genre Share Their Technique

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ChadMattandRob are Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Rob Polonsky -- three guys who, simply, "make movies together." Their well-executed interactive adventures are a model of the genre, and so we asked them to make a video revealing how they create these intricate narratives using annotations:

Today, they're featured on our homepage along with the tutorial video and two other strong examples of interactive storytelling. Here's a little more about who they are, how they work and the most important things to keep in mind when making an annotated adventure.

What does your production team look like?
We work with a close-knit creative team (Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Tyler Tuione, to name a few) and thanks to our great friends who help out in exchange for pizza and soda, we're able to work with almost no budget and limited resources. We love that YouTube has developed such a supportive community and has opened the door for creative and motivated people of all ages to create movies of all kinds. We are happy to be a part of that.

What gave you the idea to make this series?
We grew up on the Choose Your Own Adventure books and thought it would be fun to bring that interactive storytelling device to a visual medium. Thanks to the annotations feature, we were able to do that. Cliffhangers, audience participation, winding narratives and multiple endings – those are all devices we love and it's a lot of fun to play with viewer expectations.

How did you go about putting it together? 
We like to think of our interactive adventures as a game, so we start each series with a clear goal for the characters to accomplish. Once we have the goal in mind, we write the story and plot it out on a "story tree" like this one from our series "The Time Machine."

In this example, each box represents an individual episode and the arrows indicate the order in which each one will be linked to the others, via annotations. For example, at the end of the first episode (Box #1/"Start Here"), the annotations will link to the following two episodes (Box #2 and Box #3), and so on.

When we shoot and edit, we treat each box as a stand alone episode. In the example above, the entire series consists of nine separate episodes linked together by annotations. The boxes in the left column represent "fails" and the boxes on the right are the "wins" – these are the videos that will continue the story until the viewer reaches the ultimate/final "win" video. 

Interactive adventures can be anything you want. Make them shorter or longer, with more branches and offshoots...anything you can think up, you can do – this is just a basic outline. For example, our second series ("The Murder") had three separate and distinct storylines, whereas our other two interactive adventures follow a singular path.

What advice would you give to others interested in constructing interactive narratives?
Have fun with them! Make them anything you want. We've found that the less obvious the choices are, the more fun it is for the viewer and the more invested they become. But ultimately, just get out there and make one. The choices are a natural part of the storytelling process, and you'll find them instinctively as you write. Think your stories out, ask awesome people to help you, and let your adventure begin. Don't worry about your equipment, budget or software. Use what's around you, whatever you have access to.  No matter what resources you have, you can always create something.

What's the most common mistake you see people making when building these?
One mistake that's common, and it's one we've made, is not giving a clear goal at the beginning. Keep your viewer engaged by creating a concise end-point they should be striving for the entire time. Think of it as a game; it'll help with the storytelling and the payoff. But that said, experiment and see what you come up with – don't feel restricted in any way.

Tell us a cool fact about these videos that no one would know by looking at them.
Fact #1: We use a lot of our friends as actors and if you look closely, you'll see the same people over and over (usually as the bad guys).
Fact #2: Hidden in "The Murder" are a few alternate scenes; it all depends on when you click the annotation. And in the "The Birthday Party," we hid Easter Eggs throughout.
Fact #3: If you sniff them, they get you high as hell.

What other interactive narratives have you seen on YouTube that inspire you?
They all do! It's great to see the cool ways people use technology to further their creativity. We love the innovative storytelling, the annotation-based games, and the way people utilize the technology to create an international community based around a unique viewing experience. But beyond everything, we love the DIY approach – anyone who wants to can participate.

118 Responses on "Interactive Adventures: Leaders in the Genre Share Their Technique"

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    I love it, I watched the video before i saw the AOTS piece and before reading this blog. I read all of those choose your adventure books as a kid and as soon as I saw the Birthday I thought of them immediately. I remember always picking the right way ,so i would h go back and see what would have happened if i was wrong. So this time I did not save Rob, and damn it all I was still right. Good fun guys. Bravo

    Brandon says:

    I'm so glad YouTube is featuring special qualities like these, because I don't think they're being featured enough. Causecast created an interactive peace that linked one master video to two other sub-videos, and we were really happy with the spot:

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